What makes the difference whether to move forward or fall back to old habits? From your experience as a performance coach, if the normal tendency is that people fall back to their old habits, what propels a leader to do something different? Something innovative, or creating positive change?
I think suffering and hard experience are probably the best things for forming a leader’s character. One of my clients, back in the fall, had just raised a 30 million capital injection for his company. He needed it, and had worked hard to raise it. The night before it was going to hit his bank account, the lead investor pulled out. Overnight he went from trying to make payroll to not having any money. For him it was a complete shock. It threw him into the most brutal, exhausting, phases of his life. Trying to keep the company alive, raising money, what it took for him to make it happen. I remember our conversations during that time, saying to him, “When you go through it, and you will, you are going to be a different person altogether. He and I were laughing just a few days ago, and I said: “You are Corona-ready!” He said the current crisis was simply another day at the office. It did not bother him at all. It felt normal to him.
So what’s the change of habits there?
Well, at this stage, it’s not so much a habit as it is experience and presence. He’s seen a version of this before, so he realizes he has room to maneuver. And he’s less emotionally invested. This kind of maturity comes through experience and suffering, from feeling the pressure. He was deeply tested in ways that no one would choose. But the result is now he’s now acclimated to high stakes pressure and tension. He learned what it’s like to face the extinction of his company day to day for many months, so he no longer overreacts or gets frightened.The big problems don’t create blowups or exaggerated emotional reactions: he stays centered and addresses the issues with a calm head. Experience has taught him to drop the emotions and look for solutions. He believed so deeply in his company that he was not going to let it die. There’s a kind of inner resolve: He knew the value of his company, which made fighting for it easier. If it were not really valuable, he would have let it die. He’s now a mature leader who knows how to focus and prioritize when the world is falling apart.
So yes, there is some character building that happened there. He grew up during that time. The kind of leader that he is showing up as today is someone more relaxed under pressure, easier with his team in this time of crisis. Rather than showing emotion and fear, his shoulders have dropped a bit. How do you teach that? No coach can teach that, but I think you can train people to use whatever squeeze that they are in, to create that next improved version of yourself.
My sense is that people who have been doing their homework, and are committed to their own development, they are ready for whatever comes along. They find the growth opportunity available to them. Times of squeeze are useful. That’s where we build muscle. And it separates the leaders who have muscles from those who don’t, who don’t know how to use the time to grow.